I know we’ve some telecoms peeps here

So, just had fibreoptic installed at 100 Mbits.

Sometimes, the BBC asks for me to be on one of their radio shows. They don’t like using VOIP. Prefer – for a “big” show that I go to Faro to a studio where they have an arrangement to do ISDN from studio to studio.

Better sound that way apparently.

So, is there a way to get BBC quality ISDN-like over that 100 Mbits fibreoptic connection?

Skype, Google Voice (?) whatever don’t cut it. Is there something better than that?

And yes, it’s specifically to try to link up with the BBC.

24 comments on “I know we’ve some telecoms peeps here

  1. You need a carrier-grade VoIP solution. Not a best effort one like Skype or Google Voice. Try Nfon or Fuze (assuming they are available in PT). They will cost money but there’s a reason for that.

    Voice consumes <100kbit/s so the fibre link isn't really required though. ADSL would do just fine. With voice it's not the speed on the access network (the one you buy from your provider) that matters but, in order of importance:
    1) the interconnection between their network and the network of the other party you are trying to communicate with. Free services are poor here whereas charged services work better (for obvious reasons)
    2) the priority given to the voice packages on the network of your ISP vs other packages from other users. This one is out of control of all OTT providers (skype/google as well as fuze/nfon) so you need to use a voice service from your ISP here.

    Both your ISP and Fuze/Nfon will 1) give you a fixed number, 2) be useable with a fixed VoIP phone. Fuze/Nfon will also have apps you can use from your computer/mobile. Your ISP may or may not.

    Truth is that voice is still expensive and difficult to provide properly even if prices are low. You can ask any decent size corporate and you will find that they are still spending significant money on it (as they need high quality calls + switchboard functionality).

  2. Can’t say much about voice or video standards specifically, but since ISDN is 64kbits/sec in each direction it’s clearly jitter they are worried about rather than bandwidth. Might they accept a call from a SIP provider?

  3. You have no control over the intermediate connections which is why you would need to buy an expensive end to end service, if that is their problem. Without it your data can in theory be routed all over the place.

    I suspect its also to do with the background as well. I listen to a lot of podcasts that are recorded over Skype or similar and mostly the quality issues are to do with microphones or the environment – echoes and extraneous noise being big problems.

    Soumaya Keynes claimed she recorded the last episode of the Trade Talks podcast underneath a blanket in her bathroom.

  4. Reminds me of the CPS and HMCTS requiring self-employed prosecutors to acquire certain computer hardware if they were to gain instructions.

    A win for the taxpayer.

  5. You’ve already had sound issues with the neighbours. That would really show up on your feed in comparison to a relatively dead and noise-free studio whether you use ISDN or VoIP.

  6. Emil

    “the priority given to the voice packages on the network of your ISP vs other packages from other users. This one is out of control of all OTT providers (skype/google as well as fuze/nfon) so you need to use a voice service from your ISP here.

    And if the ISP generally allows you to prioritise UDP packets coming in down their pipes, and also allows you artificially to keep bandwidth at below whatever the current bottleneck may be (ie keeps the pipe inbound always able to run UDP packets at full pelt – though this may probably be unnecessary for fibre), then that may easily be sufficient?

    For example, Andrews and Arnold, my ISP in the UK (on a simple ADSL line), allow both of those – if I’ve got the terminology right – on their user control panel, without the need to use a separate copper line / service for VOIP.

    Also: QOS on the router – to prioritise all VOIP packets back out – and it generally works excellently (wrt quality) as a business phone line.

    The QOS on the router (ie packets going from me to them) in my experience is the one that maximises my client experience, making sure they can always hear me clearly..

    if my router QOS is working fine (and I prefer to reserve the appropriate kbits up specifically for the internal VOIP address, rather than have the router adapt as it goes, just to be sure) and I never get any issues at all in terms of what the client can hear; even if BT very occasionally throw a wobbly (separately from the ISP) and suddenly narrow the pipe on packets coming in (and I miss a word or two – again, might unlikely to be a problem with fibre?).

    I’m not a comms peep.

  7. I’m not a telecoms peep, but used to be in the ‘call centre biz’ with for a very large bank & my own company.

    I don’t understand their issue at all – we use to take calls into a centre, convert them to VoIP and route them all over the place including India and local home based people. Never had a voice quality problem, even with the ADSL lines from BT in 2006.

    Interestingly, one of the routes to India & back went via the Portuguese telecoms infrastructure.

    The rest of the world runs on VoIP happily as far as I can tell.

  8. All: excellent info and advice

    @PF

    Further to router config, aren’t there Windows setting for QOS, VOIP, UDP etc?

    As said, Tim’s “studio” mic & acoustics are very important – not too empty, echoey, tinny and not too small, muffled, dead. Laptop’s built in mic probably next to useless

  9. Fibre optic installed?
    You bastard!
    Best I can get is 4G cellular.
    Or – I suppose – catch and train the damn pigeons….

  10. Pcar

    “Further to router config, aren’t there Windows setting for QOS, VOIP, UDP etc?”

    I’m not sure as I’ve never used a Windows client in that context. But:

    I’m not sure how the one Windows client (as your VOIP machine presumably?) can control QOS for the internal network as a whole?

    Doesn’t the router (for the internal network) have to control what happens to the priority of all packets going through that router outbound to the ISP? That router can give priority to packet types or to particular internal IP addresses, etc, according to how you configure it..

    Unless you mean that the Windows client gives priority (on its own machine only) to VOIP over anything else that machine might otherwise also be doing at the same time (such as sending e-mails etc)?

    Which, yes, would make sense for a multi-purpose Windows machine, rather than a specialised VOIP box on its own fixed internal IP address?

  11. As Emil and BiND above have said, excellent “latency” for VOIP is crucial; poor latency destroys VOIP.

    In the old days, crap contention ratios could mean appalling latency as well as restricted bandwidth.

    Hence, although it can be less of a problem nowadays, a good business grade ISP line is more likely (in the UK at least) not to suffer from either contention or poor latency issues.

  12. Do you have an attic? Having non-parallel walls makes for good acoustics, if you can rig up a “studio” in the roof space or attic so you have floor, wall, diagonal roof that will help with sound quality. Our university radio studio was an irregular quadrilateral.

  13. BiND/others: yes, background acustics are likely also hugely important. Excellent point!

    PF: router settings that prioritise voice packages on the internal network will be important if there are multiple streams running.on that internal network
    I would however suspect that not to be an issue in Tim’s case on his home network unless he is streaming video at the same time as talking to the BBC. (In an office setting with 10s or 100s of people sharing the same line it will be different).

    Max: there is VoIP and VoIP as I state above and you confuse access protocol with core network protocol. Also in the case of a studio with ISDN in Portugal being connected to the BBC HQ in the UK the call will likely be converted to VoIP for the international transfer and the BBC HQ is likely to run on fibre so will be delivered over IP. The routes on IP will however be high quality managed IP and not best effort over the Internet

  14. What Emil said. The key point is: what happens to your packets when you hit a choke point between (where you are now) and (where the BBC presenter foil sits).

    Within BBC’s internal network, albeit leased from who knows where, they can prioritise VoIP traffic above pretty much anything else since they control everything on the network and know where their recording/broadcast studio addresses are.

    For your regular ISP, your packets will be absolutely fine from your machine into the ISP’s network – then they hit the peering interface (equivalent to a plumbing T-joint) to the international route to the BBC’s public address space, and then anything can happen. It would make sense to prioritise latency-sensitive VoIP traffic, but unless someone’s paying for it (e.g. Nfon or Fuze) it’ll just go into the bucket with people streaming their home videos from Facebook. Lawd help us.

    It could theoretically be the case that the BBC peers directly with Tim’s ISP, in which case he’ll be fine, but this seems unlikely.

  15. Emil, thanks, and interesting re “managed IP out on the main highways”.

    I’m curious – if no video is required – what the problem is with using the traditional home phone line (rather than IP and VOIP) with some competent audio equipment – if it’s occasional?

  16. The UK is phasing out all ISDN lines soon anyway. Many commercial phone line providers have already stopped offering it and businesses have to replace their switchboards to go digital.
    Probably the last places clinging on will be BBC studios!

  17. Video conferencing engineer here…

    The internet is one potential problem, although I wouldn’t expect there to be a problem between Portugal and the UK, even using wideband audio codecs. You can set up whatever QoS/ToS you like on your own network, but once your data goes out onto the public internet, those tags are ignored. Your voice call will most likely be using RTP to encapsulate the media: this is transmitted over UDP, which is dropped by an overloaded router in preference to TCP because you don’t end up with retransmit requests for missing UDP packets, so congestion is more readily relieved. Also, jitter — differences in packets’ flight time — can be a problem. But again, I wouldn’t expect this to be an issue within Western Europe. ISDN is circuit switched*, so you (theoretically) have guaranteed private bandwidth from point to point. I’d be surprised if the Beeb are still using ISDN: traditionally they have been pretty good at keeping up with things and I would have expected a satellite office to be on an MPLS link. Whether they can connect their switchboard to said MPLS link and punt a fixed-line call ‘back home’ over it is going to be a matter of BBC policy/deployment practice rather than technical capability. Otherwise, as has been suggested above, see what solution they use internally and if there is a publicly available soft client to connect into it.

    You shouldn’t need to do anything with your internal network or computer. If between them they can’t handle a voice call without any packet loss or more than a couple of milliseconds of jitter then you need to throw the lot away and start again with stuff that was built this century.

    The problem that is far more common, and that is that microphones built into most computers and webcams are rubbish, and the rooms that people use them in often have large expanses of bare wall or window which can cause echoes. Get a half-way decent unidirectional or cardioid microphone — doesn’t need to be silly money — pull the curtains, hang some towels up behind/beside you. Make sure there isn’t too much outside noise. Do a test recording locally, play it back and see if you think the quality is OK, rinse and repeat until it is.

    *should be. I know that some providers use an IP backbone and ISDN circuits at each end which is cheaper but rather defies the point

  18. It’s not just your internet. It’s your mic.

    For radio, I use a Modmic, which glues onto existing headsets, and disconnects via a magnetic nodule when you don’t want it. Last time did I a BBC interview I was told about four times how good the quality was. It was via Skype to Skype.

  19. PF: traditional PSTN / POTS voice should work just fine but Tim’s not going to have that if he has replaced his copper line with a fibre one.

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